E3 2001: Hands-on Wave Race: Blue Storm

We played the GameCube sequel to Wave Race. Find out what to expect from the NST-developed jet ski racing game in our hands-on report.

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Many would argue that Wave Race for the Nintendo 64 is still one of the best racing games on any system, even nearly five years after its release. EAD, which developed the original Wave Race, has handed over the developmental duties for the sequel to one of Nintendo's newest second-party developers, NST. After we spent some time playing the game, we noticed that little has changed from the original to the sequel other than a huge graphical upgrade.

Wave Race: Blue Storm's game design is nearly identical to that of Wave Race for the Nintendo 64. In the tournament mode, you race against seven computer-controlled Jet Skiers, hoping to place first overall in each circuit. You begin each race with an empty turbo meter, and as you navigate each buoy, the turbo meter jumps up one notch. Once the turbo meter is full, you may perform a turbo boost for an extra blast of speed. Tricks are performed in the same manner as in the Nintendo 64 version of Wave Race. To pull back flips, you must first hold forward on the analog stick while going up an incline and then pull down once you're airborne. Barrel rolls are accomplished in the same manner, except you must hold the stick to the left or the right while flying up a jump and jerk it to the other side once you're in the air. Flat-water tricks are performed with a combination of analog stick inputs and the B button. You may spin around the handlebars, perform handstands, and ride the Jet Ski backward. There is a multiplayer mode for up to four players using a split-screen, but the graphical detail is muted.

More than just the game design and trick system have been carried over from the original Wave Race to Blue Storm. The water and wave physics are still astonishingly accurate, and the skis react accurately to each dip and curl in the ocean. One of the three tracks included in the E3 demo is an exact replication of a track from the original Wave Race. In it, the water lowers after each consecutive lap so that portions of the level that were once accessible no longer represent a feasible route. The water effects have vastly improved from the original. The reflections, in particular, have been significantly bumped up in realism. Both the ski and rider are reflected in the water, and the reflections are distorted based upon the amount of chop in the water, the position of the light source, and the location of the camera. The particle effects used to show the skis cutting through the surf are impressive, and water will get kicked up from the ski into the camera lens--causing an amazingly accurate blurring effect. You may adjust the weather for each course, and the weather you choose relates directly to how big the waves will be. When the rain is really pouring down, the waves will swell, and the water surface textures dynamically animate to illustrate each drop.

While not much different from its predecessor, Wave Race: Blue Storm is a gorgeous game with wonderfully accurate physics and controls. While veterans of the franchise will likely find it to be basically the same game with prettier visuals, new skis, and more riders in each race, the levels of fun that can be attained have not been depleted whatsoever. Blue Storm's graphical panache, in conjunction with its tight gameplay, makes it one of the must-play GameCube launch games.

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